KVIE Store  

Resources

Behind the Scenes

 

Roger Akers
Akers Capital

Profile produced by Jerry Blair

 

In the quiet of his office in Sacramento, venture capitalist Roger Akers could be planning the strategy of his newest entrepreneurial discovery. Or, his mind could be on fly-casting on the quiet waters of a secret California stream. His passions run equally deep for both.

Akers is managing partner of Akers Capital, specializing in capital investments in technology-based companies.

His value to the development of the regional technology industry has not gone unrecognized: in 2002, he was voted the Business Champion of the Year in the Sacramento region. That recognition was surely well deserved considering the rough waters he is casting into during this economic slump -- especially in technologies.

Akers optimism about continued growth for the technology sector of the Sacramento area reaches a decade into the future.
Ask any angler and they will tell you that you must be optimistic when you're casting in swift running waters.


What is Akers Capital?

Akers Capital is a investment firm specializing in private equity investments in small cap technology-based companies. We're a venture capital firm.

Tell me a little bit about what it takes to stir up the interest in that industry in this region.

Well, that's a very good question. In order to develop that interest, people have to be educated as to what the opportunities are. And in the past that has been very, very difficult to do in many cities, let alone Sacramento. But here, really focusing on a number of organizations that can educate the community with a consistent message has been one of the things that we've worked very hard in doing. And that really has taken shape over the last couple of years. And it's working very, very well. But the message is now becoming more focused.

So, you've pretty much got to be the one who goes out and finds the people who can generate the interest, in other words. What organizations have you ferreted out that have been able to drive the interest?

I've worked in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce; I've worked with the Golden Capital Network, which is a very good organization for the development of entrepreneurial based companies in the region. We've also worked with and helped build the SARDA Board which is going to be critical to the success in the future of the area. We also worked with the AEA -- the American Electronics Association -- in helping build that infrastructure here locally.

Tell us a little bit about the importance of the industry in this region.

I think technology is absolutely critical to this area in terms of its future development of quality jobs going forward. And we have to kind of look at the background and the characteristics of the Sacramento region. But we've got some big core companies in the tech field like Intel, like HP, like Oracle...like NEC, that are very committed to this area. And small business development in the tech sector that are generated from those types of companies, because people leave those companies and start businesses with great innovation. Great ideas that are better managed in a small startup environment versus a large corporate setting is again going to be crucial to our area to build those big Fortune 500 companies from small businesses with great ideas. And the great part about Sacramento is that we've got very innovative people, very idea-driven people. Great engineering talent from some of these companies that have started businesses over the last few years are going to help us. We're seeing serial entrepreneurs from past business endeavors starting new businesses once again, and that's a very positive thing for this area that we didn't see ten years ago. It's having those types of people in the area that can build those kinds of companies.

With the economy not quite sure where it is at the moment and some of the large companies in the technology industry having a hard time of it, is that affecting the ability to draw entrepreneurs in to the area?

I actually think that there are some very positive aspects to this. I know we all…none of us like a down economy, that's for certain. But at the same time, you have to look at: the availability of high quality people is now better. The people with solid ideas, solid business plans, that want to take companies -- it's no longer possible to have a marginal plan get funded or to attract people to that kind of a plan. Now you have to have solid plans, solid people, all the right characteristics so that you know what the revenue generating potential for a company is going to be. And therefore the investors will pick it up and make those kinds of investments and those kinds of deals. And what we're finding is better quality deals, better staffed than maybe in the past because it was harder to find better quality people.

Why do you think that is?

Well, simply because there's less demand by the larger companies. There have been layoffs by the larger companies. There are people working for larger companies that see this as a good time to start a new business. Whereas there are cutbacks and less raises, less incentives through stock option programs at the larger companies that are really creating a long term plan for the future for these high quality employees. And so they go out and start their own businesses. And let's face it, technology has allowed that to occur where people can go out and start innovative new businesses and small businesses, because technology capabilities allow that to occur.

Pretend I'm someone who has an idea of starting a company here. What could you tell me about the Sacramento region that would make me want to develop a business in this area?

Well, again we can go back to the fact that we've got a great base to recruit from. We can look at the success stories of existing companies that have built new businesses here, and also new companies that have moved here from various parts of the country to develop their businesses here in the Sacramento area. So we're built for success. Another very exciting part of that is in the last few years the development of infrastructure that helps support entrepreneurial development and company development for small businesses has occurred. And that's why I'm very optimistic about what's going to happen in the future in Sacramento. Because we have very focused organizations for those entrepreneurs to be successful. Again including SARDA, including AEA that's been involved for quite some time now, as well as Golden Capital Network. The University is becoming much more involved in privatization of technology and the support of that relationship and that bond between the public and private sectors. So I think if you take all those things into consideration I think someone thinking of starting a business or moving here from the outside would see the Sacramento area as being conducive to the development of new companies.

Taking it one notch further, are there specific portions of the industry that are showing interest here that you can point to?

Obviously in Sacramento...we're not Silicon Valley. To go out and look at Sacramento strategically and say that we have very developed core competencies in the region in specific areas, I wouldn't say that we're there yet. But I will say that there are very, very good areas developing now. Those include in the telecommunications arena, in the semiconductor arena, and the biomedical arena are all areas of growth and we see multiple companies in that area. The growth in the biotechnology arena is absolutely amazing and the number of companies and the amount of money being invested in the local area in that field...so I'm very optimistic about all of them.

Has your company been involved at all with the biotech industry in the area?

Well, we haven't been to date but I will say we're currently evaluating an opportunity to be in the biotech arena and it's looking very, very good. In our subsequent fund we're out raising now we are going to invest in the biotech and have expertise in that beyond our normal IT expertise that we've had in the past.

What does it take to maintain this interest in technology in a region that has historically been steeped in agriculture?

Well, I think the impetus is somewhat…is just a normal evolution for a great place such as Sacramento. The quality of life issues that people are confronting and still wanting high quality jobs and a great place to work -- you know, that's Sacramento. We can hire out of the Bay Area, we can bring people, we can bring technology from the Bay Area, and from other places in California to Sacramento. We have access to all the recreational facilities in just this immediate area -- so I think that's one of the great characteristics. Another thing would be our ability now to bring venture capital and invest on a local level here in the Sacramento region, and then bring other syndication partners in to invest with us from the outside -- maybe larger investment firms from the outside to invest in businesses in this area. I think as that evolves and grows over the next couple of years I think that's going to be a huge presence in this economy. I think Sacramento is poised for great growth to occur.

Looking at a slightly broader picture, we all know about swift developing technology companies surrounding the Sacramento area. Are you now looking elsewhere in the Valley at all, at areas that might be ripe for development?

We've been pretty focused in just the nine county area around the Sacramento region. In terms of investing on a local basis, it's our feeling that to help companies grow from an investment capital perspective and to provide added value to those companies beyond just providing them money, that we need to be relatively close to them and supporting them. So that's part of that reason. That doesn't mean there aren't opportunities in other places, but we basically focus on non-Bay Area related northern California as far as our investment focus is concerned. That doesn't mean there aren't other places that are developing.

The reason I ask is because when we looked at the economy early on we heard a lot about the development of cluster industries in various regions up and down the Valley and I just wondered whether that had some impact on where you might look for the next opportunity?

Well, you have to give the Sacramento region a lot of credit because the fact that we do have the Intels, the Oracles, the HPs in this area that provide that solid base of engineering talent -- as an example, senior management talent. So, it is more difficult in other areas outside the Sacramento region, but nevertheless we know of great high quality software companies in Eureka. There's a semiconductor company up in Redding that's doing fabulous things. We know companies over in Monterey that are very successful. I've spent some time in this past year working on a couple of projects in Fresno and down in that area. So, I've got kind of a feel of what's going on in at least those parts of California, and there's a lot of innovation occurring and a lot of quality companies developing, but I think it has more to do with the types of companies developing in those areas versus those maybe that can develop in a region that has the resources that Sacramento does. Because Sacramento would be able to support multiple different types of technology development, whereas those companies are maybe a little bit more limited -- maybe more software development-oriented.

Do you see Sacramento continuing to be a successful hub for this type of development over the next five or ten years?

Well, I'm an optimist in any case, but I'm very, very excited about our potential and I believe that while nobody wants to… Maybe we don't want to become L.A. in Sacramento. I do see just explosive growth. I mean, we've already seen explosive growth in the Sacramento region, but I think from a tech perspective, I see us moving very, very quickly over the next five to ten years. Lots of investment capital will be invested here. We'll be able to develop a great infrastructure, as we talked about before, in those areas of core competencies in this area. I see us having some very solid wins in that area and some very high quality businesses developing from that. And so I'm very optimistic about what's going to occur.

If the growth is as fast and as robust as you see it, do you have a fear that we could turn into a San Jose?

Well, I guess we live here for the quality of life, but yes, I do. I do see that as a great potential. San Jose in terms of the number of technology companies over the next ten years? Probably not. In terms of people and traffic and those kinds of issues -- yes I do. I see us becoming…it's just a very cost-effective, affordable, high quality place to live and a lot of people are recognizing that and moving from places where they weren't enjoying a high quality of life. So, I guess that's just part of our evolution as a region. I'd just like to add that we don't have a large number of corporate headquarters in the Sacramento region and that's one of the things that have kind of held the area back in the past. We've relied on jobs -- government based jobs -- for a long period of time. We have a few headquarters here but not a lot. There are cities in the country that have a lot less population than Sacramento that have many corporate headquarters there. I think that we're going to make some real strides in that direction in the future with companies that are going to recognize Sacramento, maybe moving their corporate headquarters here for a variety of reasons and that's going to be something that's also going to generate growth in the region and make the region more viable from a business development perspective.

What excites you most about what you do? What's your greatest joy in your work?

Well, that's very, very simple. I've been asked that question a number of times. Being able to work with the brightest and smartest people, maybe in the world, I get exposed to many, many of them and I think that's what I enjoy the most is meeting and working with very, very talented people. The second love there is is when you finally invest in a company and you get to help that company grow and build a successful company. That's a very...it's one of the best feelings in the world to have a company grow successfully -- and not just from a financial perspective, but from the perspective of bringing a high quality group of people together and having them work in a very focused, efficient manner.

Could you tell us about the award you were given this year?

They have a High Tech Direct Gold Strike award, and recently I was voted the Business Champion of the Year in the Sacramento region and that was a very nice recognition. I appreciated it very, very much. We work a lot with people. Venture capital has a great deal to do with organizational development and channel development-type work for the companies you invest in. But because of that you have great access to a large numbers of people that are looking for career change, job changes, maybe wanting to become more entrepreneurial from larger firms and that sort of thing. So, we work a lot with a lot of different people that want to fit in with entrepreneurial-based companies and so that's very exciting and I enjoy that a good bit.



TRANSCRIPT:

The complete text of New Valley Episode 110 -- Movers & Shakers...

 


Presentation also made possible by a grant from
the Great Valley Center

 

New Valley Official Site